“Traverse City – Where We Do Things”

OblingerNovember 24 will be a significant day here at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. As the region prepares for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Chamber will quietly observe the 100th anniversary of its founding on November 24, 1915, when a small group of local business leaders gathered in downtown Traverse City for a humble start to a journey that, a century later, is nothing short of remarkable.

The day of origin was rather ordinary – the Chamber agreed to pay its first acting secretary a weekly salary of $50 while it offered the permanent job to a fellow from Virginia. It also authorized some money to create a sign that read “Traverse City – Where We Do Things” that a local boys group would take to a conclave in Kalamazoo that month.

Little did anyone know at the time how prophetic that sign would be. Within months of its founding, the Chamber helped build a bridge over the Boardman River at Cass Street to connect our growing downtown with the city’s waterfront. Over the next decade the Chamber reached out to J.C. Penney headquarters in New York urging it to open a story in downtown Traverse City. In the 1930s the Chamber helped create an airport on the then-outskirts of Traverse City, and later that decade led an effort to remove the railroad tracks from the city’s industrialized waterfront, and then pushed for a Coast Guard Station in Traverse City.

The 1950s brought Northwestern Michigan College to town, and efforts to build the region’s industrial base. The ’60s and ’70s brought more change for the good, including de-industrializing the city’s waterfront and creating the open, public bayfront we enjoy today.

Over the decades, the Chamber’s leadership and honorees who helped make these things and others happen reads like a Northern Michigan Hall of Fame – community leaders including Con Foster, Doc Thirlby, Parm Gilbert, Bob Murchie, Jay Smith, Lars Hockstad, Arnell Engstrom, Maybelle Beers, Gov. William Milliken and his father James, Les Biederman, Glenn Loomis, Frank Stulen and a long list of others. The Chamber served as a conduit for these extraordinary men and women to leave a lasting mark on the community – a tradition that continues today.

Looking back over the past century, another pattern becomes clear. While our community leaders have always stepped up to meeting the challenges and opportunities facing the Grand Traverse region, the other constant is change itself. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re living in an era of unprecedented growth and development that threatens our region’s quality of life. But in reality, our region has consistently evolved over the past century-plus, nearly all of it for the better. We built up the area’s commercial core to create jobs and opportunity, then changed with the times to protect the natural attractions that make our area unique.

As we look back on this journey, let’s remember the people and institutions that have paved the way to bring us to where we are today. Change is not the enemy – nor is growth – as we look to pave the way over the next 100 years. The Grand Traverse region should be proud of what it’s built and continue to embrace the change and growth that’s generated what we’ve all come to enjoy. If the community can make its next 100 years as prosperous as the previous century, there’s no limit to what we can reach.

Laura Oblinger is the Executive Director of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by email at laura@tcchamber.org.